As expected, the fate of federal health care reforms to improve access and affordability will be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, which begins its new term today. The Justice Department asked the court last week to review an appellate ruling on Florida's legal challenge. The stakes are high. As various elements of the law have gone into effect, the benefits are becoming even more obvious. Health insurance security for young adults has markedly increased, and the nightmare scenario of insurance costs rising for seniors in private plans has failed to materialize. The Affordable Care Act is working, and the proof is in the numbers.
It has been a year since the Affordable Care Act allowed parents to keep adult children on their health insurance until age 26. This single change has led to more young adults being covered by health insurance than the law's supporters even envisioned. A survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the country had 900,000 fewer uninsured adults ages 19 to 25 in the first quarter of 2011 than it had in the first quarter of 2010. The only valid explanation is the change in law, since the spike comes despite youth unemployment in double digits.
Before the new law, financial constraints and a sense of invulnerability caused 18- to 24-year-olds to be the least likely to obtain health coverage, leaving them open to crushing medical bills in the event of an accident or sudden illness. Now that "least likely" honor has shifted to those in the 25 to 34 age group, who are largely left out of health reform until 2014.
Another health care reform bright spot is news that premiums for Medicare Advantage insurance plans will tick down next year by an average of 4 percent, and insurers project enrollments will increase 10 percent. This is in stark contrast to predictions by Republicans and the insurance industry that seniors would leave in droves if health care reform passed.
Medicare Advantage plans are popular because they provide extras, such as free hearing aids. But they cost the federal government about 14 percent more per enrollee than traditional Medicare, with some of that going to company profits. This is a waste of taxpayer money. In response, the new law cut more than $130 billion from the private plans over 10 years. The change has so far left seniors unaffected.
Meanwhile for everyone else, private health insurers are using the last year before broad government premium oversight to gouge their customers. Premiums are up an average of 9 percent, with many policies jumping double digits, despite a decrease in overall use of medical services due to the economy. Only 1 or 2 percent of the increase can be attributed to expanded coverage required under health care reform. But starting in 2012, insurers will have to justify any price hike of more than 10 percent. They appear to be unconscionably front-loading revenues.
Public officials who continue to fight health care reform will soon face a public accustomed to its benefits. Keeping young people on their parents' policies and policing costs is just a small sample. As the leading GOP presidential hopefuls campaign calling for health care reform's repeal, they are racing against the clock. The more the public knows about what health care reform means to them, the less politically viable repeal will be.
But before voters head to the polls in November 2012, the Supreme Court is likely to decide the fate of health care reform. Gov. Rick Scott, state Attorney General Pam Bondi and other Florida Republicans who have gone to court to overturn the landmark law are waging a political fight on thin legal theory and putting health care at risk for all Floridians. The Supreme Court should uphold the law and let the reforms continue.